The president of the Swiss National Bank, Jean-Pierre Roth, defended Switzerland's banking secrecy on Tuesday and said there were "misunderstandings" with Britain on the issue.This content was published on February 27, 2002 - 10:45
Speaking to the British-Swiss Chamber of Commerce in London, Roth said that many observers believe the success of Swiss banks can only be explained by the existence of banking secrecy.
With its traditions and its experience in asset management, Switzerland attached great value to financial privacy, he said.
"It would be short-sighted to believe that a financial centre could ensure its long-term development on a single factor," such as financial privacy, Roth said.
Financial privacy does not extend to the protection of criminal activity, he said.
"The protection of financial privacy is not an obstacle to an efficient fight against money laundering or the financing of terrorism, nor does it hamper fair tax competition with our neighbours if a withholding tax is implemented along the line of the European Union directive," he argued.
The number three in the British finance ministry, Dawn Primorolo, took Switzerland to task over banking secrecy in December, arguing that it was allowing British citizens to avoid paying taxes on assets held in Switzerland.
The EU, of which Switzerland is not a member, has been striving to achieve tax harmonisation within and outside its boundaries to fight tax evasion.
The 15 member countries are set to increase pressure on third countries to exchange information on non-resident bank accounts, although there is opposition even within the EU to such an exchange.
Switzerland has repeatedly said that banking secrecy is not negotiable.
swissinfo with agencies
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